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tv   Dateline  MSNBC  November 12, 2017 1:00am-2:00am PST

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and so i always -- i always pray to make sure that he knows that even though his mother's not there, she loved him more than anything. she was a mom looking for her baby, and her baby hadn't come home. >> reporter: cathy's week had been nothing but trouble. >> she couldn't tell me what happened. >> she was so upset. >> reporter: it was about to get much worse. >> my mom would say "if you find the car, you'll find cathy." >> you didn't want it to be dark because you wanted to keep looking. >> she was stabbed multiple times. there was blood within the interior of the car. she was a targeted victim. >> reporter: who killed cathy? >> we had no witness. we had no confession. we had no dna. >> reporter: 20 years went by.
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>> i still had to keep looking for what i had lost. >> reporter: but cathy had her. and she had him. >> i put a lot of faith in god. darren was his tool. >> and the killer? he never had a chance. >> this was everything to her. i fulfilled my promise. >> reporter: in the wee small hours of the morning, while the whole wide world is fast asleep, mary bennett is awake. not because she wants to be, but because some things stay with you, whether you want them to or not. and for mary bennett, it's the time -- 3:40 a.m. >> every day i wake up around that time. it's embedded in my brain. >> reporter: for more than two decades, that particular time has stabbed her in the heart,
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pulled her awake. it's an internal clock, permanently set to the worst day of her life. it began with a phone call, then a knock on the door, and news of something that should never have happened to this family, to this girl. >> when she would come inside the house, her favorite thing was, "i'm home. what's for dinner?" even if somebody -- we just finished cleaning the kitchen, she'd still ask, "what's for dinner?" that was cathy. >> reporter: cathy torrez grew up in placentia -- a small town nestled amongst the sprawling cities of southern california. >> even as a baby she was a good baby. >> reporter: mary bennett is cathy's mother. >> she was always happy, always running, and always very loud, and always smiling. >> reporter: that radiant smile shined everywhere she went, says cathy's sister tina. >> cathy was energetic. she was happy. she loved to laugh. >> reporter: cathy was one of four siblings. there was younger brother marty and the baby, debbie.
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tina was the eldest. she watched as cathy excelled in school. >> cathy was exceptional. cathy made her own way. she didn't follow a role model. >> reporter: nobody guiding her and nobody pushing her. >> exactly. she had her own drive. >> she used to tell her younger sister that she had to leave her mark. you had to leave your mark in this world so that people would remember you when you moved on. >> reporter: you have to leave your mark on the world. did you teach her that? >> no, that was just her. >> reporter: seems like an admirable thing for a kid to come up with. >> well, cathy was different. >> reporter: beautiful, smart and social. and popular. you knew more about her dating life than maybe your mom and dad did. >> yes, i believe to some extent, yes. >> reporter: cathy dated a few guys in high school, but no one she was terribly stuck on. and then in 1994, out of high school and a young woman of 20,
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cathy started to see a boy named albert. a boy she'd played with as a child, and was now interested in romantically. were they boyfriend and girlfriend? >> she said that they were, you know, seeing each other, but it sn't anything rious or formal that i knew of. that's how she explained it to me, you know, he was a nice guy. >> reporter: cathy's plate was full that february of 1994. she was an honors student at cal state fullerton, holding down two jobs -- one at the local drugstore and another as a teacher's aide -- all to pay for college. and now she was also seeing a new guy. just a few days before february 14th, cathy told sister tina what she wanted for valentine's day. >> she said, "tina, i would just like it if somebody gave me a dozen red roses for valentine's day." and i said, "yeah, that's all you want?" she said "i would just like a
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dozen red roses." >> reporter: she had never received a dozen roses from anyone, but that year she was hopeful. it was saturday, february 12th, when cathy went off to her job at the drugstore. how was she that morning? >> she was fine. just routine. nothing out of the ordinary. >> reporter: tina was trying to catch up with cathy that day before she went to work, but just missed her at home, only to see her moments later in traffic. >> we saw each other and she gave me the biggest smile that i will always remember. she saw me. we looked at each other. it was a beautiful smile. >> reporter: that smile, that moment, burned into her memory. cathy's shift ended at about 8:00 that night. she was supposed to come straight home.
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but mary didn't see her. so 9:00, 10:00 comes, you're not worried? >> no, i wasn't worried. >> reporter: saturday night -- she probably went out after work. >> yeah. >> reporter: but then sunday morning came, and still no cathy. cathy's family launches a search. >> i drove into the parking lot, i said let me just see her car. let me just see her car. >> reporter: and the fear and the frustration grow. >> there was no days or no nights. you didn't want it to be dark because you wanted to keep looking. want in on the secret to ageless skin. take the olay 28 day challenge. millions of real women see results starting day 1. "there is not a friend i have, that will not own this product"" visible results or your money back olay. ageless.
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and dulcoease for comfortable relief of hard stools. dulcolax. designed for dependable relief. so i tried always discreet. sensitive bladder. i didn't think protection this thin could work. but the super absorbent core turns liquid to gel. so it's out of sight... ...and out of mind. always discreet. for bladder leaks. i never thought i'd say this, but i found bladder leak underwear that's actually pretty. always discreet boutique. hidden inside is a super absorbent core that quickly turns liquid to gel. so i feel protected... ...and pretty. new always discreet boutique. valentine's day, 1994, was two days away, but mary bennet's heart was already racing and for all the wrong reasons. her daughter cathy torrez never came home after her shift at sav-on ended. and the next morning, there was
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still no sign of her. mary called cathy's friends and no one had seen her. so mary got in the car and scoured the streets of placentia, searching for cathy and her red toyota corolla. cathy's sister tina saw the wrenching worry in their mother's face. >> she was a mom full of pain. she was a mom who -- who was hurting because she was looking for her baby. she would say, "just find the car." if you find the car, it was like an equation. find the car, you'll find cathy. >> reporter: you get any sleep sunday night? >> no. just waiting. >> reporter: you don't want to call the police because that makes it real? >> that's right. it makes it real because you're still holding onto the hope that she's going to come running in through that backdoor.
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>> reporter: by monday, cathy still wasn't home. panic was setting in and mary called the police department to report her daughter missing. and the police said? >> "well, you know, you don't know that. maybe she went off and --" but i knew. >> reporter: that she could have met some guy and they're in vegas right now. and you're saying -- >> no. >> reporter: not possible? >> at that point you want to yell and scream at them and tell them, "that's not true. you don't know, not my cathy." >> reporter: the torrez family was not going to wait for police to catch up to what they already knew -- that cathy was not someone who'd just disappear. they went to reporters. mary spoke to knbc in los angeles. >> this is one thing that nobody should have to go through. >> reporter: and took the search into their own hands. >> the police department wasn't receptive. so i told my mom, "okay, give me a picture." >> reporter: tina was in charge of flyers. mary worked the phones at home. and younger brother marty kept watch in front of sav-on. >> hi, did you guys receive a flyer?
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>> reporter: soon it wasn't just the torrez family searching for cathy. >> we know god's there for you. >> reporter: police did jump on the case, and it seemed as if all of placentia did too. >> we had strangers, people coming to the house asking, "what can we do? where can we take the flyers? can we have some flyers" to pass out flyers. >> reporter: tina drove to the school where cathy worked. all the while, mary's mantra echoed thru her mind -- find the car and you'll find cathy. >> when i drove into the parking lot, i said, "let me just see her car. let me just see her car." because i knew a lot of things were going on in her life, you know -- you know, in that week prior. >> reporter: a lot of things was an understatement. cathy's family was very worried about her state of mind after a strange and terrifying series of events that had happened the week before she vanished. first, she'd come home the previous saturday in a bizarre state -- incoherent, unable to stand up. >> she couldn't get out of the car. my son went out to help her.
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>> reporter: that cannot have made you happy. >> no, it didn't. because i had never seen her come home like that. and she couldn't tell me what had happened. >> reporter: she smell like alcohol? >> no, she didn't. that was -- that was the scary part to me that, you know, that she did not smell like alcohol, yet something was wrong with her. >> reporter: even more alarming, mary later realized cathy's underwear was missing. what you're describing is what happens when people come home after they've been date raped. >> well, yes. >> reporter: you know, they can't remember what happened. they're maybe not wearing all their clothes and they are clearly under the influence of something. >> well, yes. i was afraid that maybe that had happened to her. but i didn't know for a fact. >> reporter: and she had no memory? >> and she had no memory. >> reporter: you think about
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calling the police? >> sadly, no. i didn't think about that. >> reporter: it didn't end there. the next morning tina saw cathy's car. >> i remember looking at the tires and saying, "what happened? how could this be?" the way they -- they were slashed. >> reporter: it was deliberate. >> i just kept saying, "what happened to your tires? who slashed your tires?" >> reporter: and she'd say? >> and she'd say she didn't know. >> reporter: but the worst was yet to come. two days after cathy came home in that strange condition, her new boyfriend albert rangel apparently tried to commit suicide. he even left a note that seemed to be in his own handwriting. all of this just days before cathy disappeared. albert hanged himself at work, but he didn't die. he lingered in a coma in the hospital. and cathy was devastated. >> she was so upset. she was crying. she couldn't believe that someone would do something like that. >> reporter: and now the torrez
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family was left to wonder if and how all of this connected to cathy's disappearance. >> just felt like you were out in this time warp. you know, there was no days and no nights. and you didn't want it to be dark because you wanted to keep looking. >> reporter: the next big search was planned for saturday morning, february 19th -- one week since cathy had last been seen. >> we got all the maps ready, and we had just got another box donated of flyers. and everything was set. >> reporter: and then around 3:40 a.m. saturday, there was a knock on mary's front door. police find cathy's car. >> cathy's shoe was on the floorboard and there was blood within the interior of the car. >> what had happened to cathy? i don't think anything can prepare you to hear those words from a doctor: stage 2 breast cancer.
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the torrez family had planned a major search for cathy on saturday, a week after she disappeared. but at 3:40 that morning, mary had a visitor. >> a police officer. >> reporter: he asked for cathy's keys. >> i gave him the key and i asked him if it was cathy's car. and he just looked straight and he didn't look at me. and he said he didn't know, that they had just told him to come and pick up the key. and he left.
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>> reporter: find the car and you'll find cathy. it had become practically a family motto. so when another officer arrived hours later, the torrez family was waiting for what they had dreaded all week. >> my mom asked him what had happened. "did you find cathy?" and then he looked at my mom, and he said, "i'm sorry." and all i remember were the flyers that were on my mom's table in the living room and feeling so much pain. i was yelling, "not my cathy. not cathy." >> reporter: mary bennett had been right all along. cathy's toyota corolla had been spotted in a hospital parking lot. a plastic bag was peeking out of
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the trunk. officers opened it, and cathy torrez was missing no longer. >> she had been stabbed multiple times. all about the upper chest and neck. >> reporter: detective sergeant daron wyatt. >> you know, there's no way to time the death. but i think it's pretty safe to assume that she had been dead since she disappeared on that saturday night on the 12th. >> reporter: it was devastating not just for the torrez family but for all those in placentia who'd been searching so tirelessly for cathy. >> she was a vibrant, very intelligent young girl. this is truly a tragedy. >> reporter: detectives went to work trying to find cathy's killer. they set up a hotline. >> if you have any information regarding the homicide of cathy torrez -- >> reporter: and scoured placentia for clues. by studying her car and her body, investigators got a sense of what happened. first, cathy was completely clothed.
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no sign of a sexual assault. and one more thing also seemed clear. >> most likely the attack started in the car. there were pieces of the gearshift that were broken, pieces of the center console that were broken, as if a struggle had occurred. and then there was blood within the interior of the car. >> reporter: orange county prosecutor matt murphy later reviewed the case. he noted blood on everything the killer must have touched -- the steering wheel, above the glove compartment, the driver's side armrest and, of course, the trunk release. but one noteworthy place where there was no blood? the driver's side seat lever. 4'11" cathy drove her car with the seat moved closest to the steering wheel. but when police found the car, the seat was racked all the way back. suggesting that somebody taller than cathy was operating the car. >> not only operating the car, but did that before the murder itself took place.
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because that was touched, and that seat was moved without any transfer of blood at all. so the seat was moved back before the killing started. >> reporter: and, if so, perhaps it was because cathy knew her killer and opened the door for him or her. investigators also found cathy's right shoe on the floorboard of her car and her sock covered in dirt. she got out of the car? >> yes, absolutely. cathy had fled from the vehicle on foot, had most likely been caught and attacked again before she was ultimately placed in the trunk of the car and died. >> reporter: she fought pretty hard to get away. >> she did. she ran for her life. >> reporter: to detectives, this was not a sex crime or a robbery. more than 70 stab wounds suggested something else. >> there's nothing random about it. she was a targeted victim. >> reporter: and perhaps the most chilling clue -- a letter in cathy's own handwriting found tucked away on the passenger side of cathy's car. she says in the letter it's a
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little after 8:15. >> it's -- yeah. "it's 8:15, just finished my shift. today was crazy. everybody was all buying v --" and the "v" was for valentine's day. >> reporter: and that's as far as she got? >> that's as far as she got. so she's interrupted mid-sentence. >> reporter: just who had done that? detectives weren't quite sure. daron believed the letter was intended for albert, who at the time of cathy's murder was lying in a coma in the hospital after a suicide attempt. he never woke up, and died almost two years later. >> obviously you have to look at all of that, and you have to ask, "is there something that's involved in that?" >> reporter: it was almost too strange to imagine. except to police. >> there were rumors within the community that that may have been the motive for her disappearance and murder, was that, "hey you need to look at the rangel family." >> reporter: members of albert's family, the rumors said, were angry with cathy, thinking that she might have been the cause of his suicide attempt. >> because of his relationship
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with cathy and the fact that she wasn't as serious about him as he was with her. so that had to be examined, it had to be looked at. >> reporter: so the investigation continued, as people in placentia paid final respects to the friendly cashier they knew from sav-on. more than a thousand people attended cathy's funeral. pretty impressive. >> the kind of person cathy was. she touched a lot of people, and they remembered her. >> reporter: she left her mark. >> she did. >> reporter: cathy had hoped for a dozen red roses that february. instead her family remembered her with a headstone. "your smile will shine forever." that wasn't the only promise cathy's mother made. >> i didn't know how long i'd be -- i would have to wait. but i knew that we had to do everything that we could to get the answer. >> reporter: because? >> because she was my daughter. and someone had taken her away
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from me. someone had done something horrible to her and they -- someone needed to be accountable. >> reporter: no one could have imagined at the time just how long mary's quest for justice would take. detectives have a few questions for one of cathy's closest friends. >> the minute i said no to her, she blew up. she started cussing me out. want in on the secret to ageless skin.
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cathy torrez had been murdered and stuffed in the trunk of her car. police were considering what role her new boyfriend, albert, and his attempted suicide may have played. but for now, they were left with unanswered questions and a town shaken by her murder. >> cathy had so much to live for and was a very happy person, a people's person. >> reporter: that was armando lopez speaking back in 1994. armando was cathy's brother-in-law, tina's then husband. but that wasn't the only connection between the two
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families. it turned out cathy had dated armando's younger brother, sam, off and on. and the families lived right down the street from each other. you can see one house from the other. >> exactly. >> reporter: and she's going out with sam. >> uh-huh. >> reporter: you marry his older brother. >> uh-huh. >> reporter: so that house wasn't just another house on the street. >> right. >> reporter: it was family. >> right. right. >> reporter: police spoke with members of the lopez family. sam knew cathy the best. >> how long have you known cathy? >> jeez, i've known her for over five years. >> reporter: they interviewed him down at the station. >> yeah, i really had fun with her. like i said, that person, i'm serious, would always have a smile. we would always be laughing, making jokes. >> reporter: given their friendship, detectives were curious about what cathy might have shared with sam about albert. since albert tried to commit suicide, she was taking it pretty hard. was she confiding in you? >> the only thing she mentioned about him was that he hung
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himself and she was sorry for him doing that, because she thought it was his -- her fault, okay? that's -- that's how she said it to me. we never really sat down and talked about it. well, you know what? i think she was trying to hide from her problems by smoking out. >> reporter: meaning she was smoking marijuana. cathy's family said that for her, that would be out character. sam told detectives he had last seen cathy the thursday before she disappeared. he said she'd paged him several times that day and when they finally met up -- >> she asked me for some weed, you know? and then she kept on asking me, "so are you going to give it to me or what?" and i go, "you know what?" the minute i said no to her, she blew up. she started cussing me out. you know, and, "if i don't get it through you, i'm going to get it through somebody else." >> reporter: and then, sam said, cathy got in her car and took off. >> so i'm like, you know, i mean, what can i do now? i mean, shoot, a girl cusses you
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out, i mean i can't go chasing after her. you know, 'cause i never thought she was going to -- i mean, this was going to happen. >> reporter: sam shared his suspicions about what had happened to cathy. the same rumors about albert that were circulating around placentia. >> but you know what? hey, it's a possibility that, shoot, somebody else from his family -- i'm not blaming anybody. i'm not pointing fingers at nobody, okay? but why -- why the coincidence that after he hung himself, this happened? why? have you ever thought of that? >> reporter: of course, police also asked sam where he was the night cathy disappeared. >> could you tell us where you were saturday night, this last saturday? >> sure. >> we're asking everyone. >> no. that's fine, that's fine, i understand. i was up in corona. i was helping my friend, a friend of mine moved. >> reporter: sam told police how he and his cousin javier helped their friend move in the afternoon, and then he said he
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dropped javier off at his home. >> where'd you go from there? >> from there i went to my girlfriend's store. and i was there till, shoot, till they closed, which was around 8:00, a little bit after 8:00. then let me see, what did i do that day? somebody paged me, i think. oh, i picked my cousin up again. >> so if we had to contact everyone that you mentioned, you know, you could get the names and addresses, phone numbers. >> sure. >> they could confirm where you were on saturday night? >> reporter: and sure enough, they did. police spoke with javier who corroborated sam's story. >> javier told investigators that he was with sam, that sam had picked him up at his house in anaheim and driven him to another friend's house in fullerton during the time that we believe cathy was contacted and ultimately murdered. >> reporter: so if you believe sam's alibi, he couldn't have been the thing that interrupted cathy when she was writing that note. >> right. >> reporter: nevertheless, they pressed sam for more details.
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>> the clothing you were wearing saturday? >> i think it was a guess sweatshirt. >> reporter: sam readily gave those clothes to the police. he let them search his house too. and he willingly gave samples of his hair and blood. but something about sam's behavior the week cathy was missing bothered her family. mary said she'd repeatedly paged sam looking for cathy, but he was slow to respond. he call you back? >> not at first. >> reporter: but eventually he did? >> eventually, yes. >> reporter: and he said what, he hadn't seen her? >> he hadn't seen her. >> reporter: to all appearances, that was true. and the physical evidence seemed to confirm it. sam's dna was not found anywhere on cathy or her car and his clothes, the ones he gave voluntarily to police, had no dna of cathy's on them. but that behavior of sam's which bothered cathy's family, also bothered police, and they focused on him. however, when investigators took
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their suspicions to the orange county d.a., the outcome was not what they expected. >> coming up, sam has a new woman in his life who soon discovers his old life. you were a little freaked out by that? >> well, yeah. happy thanks for giving! thanks for giving lien the strength to outrun her brother. thanks for giving victor the energy to be the rowdiest fan. and joseph, the ability to see monsters. when you choose walgreens, you choose to make a difference... like how every vitamin and flu shot you get at walgreens helps give life-changing vitamins and vaccines... to children in need around the world and here at home. so, really... happy thanks for giving! walgreens. at the corner of happy and healthy.
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police had their suspicions about sam lopez's involvement in the murder of his neighbor and former girlfriend, cathy torrez. but there was no physical evidence tying him to the murder. and he had a solid alibi on the night cathy was killed. sam was with his cousin, javier. which is why when police took their case to the d.a.'s office, the d.a. refused to file charges against sam. police pursued other leads too, like a possible connection to the suicide of cathy's boyfriend, albert. did you think that cathy's disappearance had anything to do with albert? >> no. >> reporter: coincidence. >> yeah, just two tragedies happening at the same time. >> reporter: but not connected. >> but not connected, no. >> reporter: even though that coincidence continued to bother them, police were forced to agree. but that left the investigation with nowhere to go.
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whoever had killed cathy was still out there walking around. >> yes. still out there. enjoying the sun. >> reporter: breathing the same air you're breathing? >> yes. >> reporter: you think about that a lot? >> i did. especially if it was a beautiful day. >> reporter: those sunny days turned dark. months passed. seasons changed. and still the torrez familwas left wondering who had killed cathy. something that never changed was mary -- steadfast in her resolve to get justice for her daughter. early on, a friend gave her some advice. >> she said, "remember, mary, the squeaky wheel gets the oil. don't let anyone tell you different. you keep going." and that's what i did. >> reporter: mary and her family sought the attention of the media. they marched in rallies, lobbied officials for greater victims' rights, and spoke with then-california governor pete wilson about cathy's murder. they even contributed to reward funds, some of it by selling
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tamales at the local fair. you were doing just about everything you could think of, weren't you? >> yes. yes. well, you have to. you have to, because you don't have the name or the resources to do it on your own. so then you look, then you knock on a lot of doors, trying to keep it out there. >> reporter: the torrez family says they spent thousands of hours knocking on doors, speaking at events, all in the hope that cathy's case would not lie forgotten in a filing cabinet. and mary did something else too. >> i worked part time for the city. and it just so happened that my desk was right at the door -- the hallway that connected the police department with the city. and so they would see me sitting at my desk when they walked into city hall. >> reporter: so every new police chief -- >> every. >> reporter: -- would get a
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meeting with you? >> yes. i would actually go into their office and talk to them and tell them -- see what they could do. >> reporter: you were a pest? >> i was a squeaky wheel. >> reporter: your mom was relentless with the police. >> yes, she was. i went with her a couple times to meet the -- the new chief that would come into the police department. we go in there. you know, "we just want to let you know that we represent cathy torrez, and we have not forgotten, and we just want to make sure that her case is still being worked on." >> reporter: "we have not forgotten and we want to make sure that you don't either." >> right, right. >> reporter: the city of placentia didn't forget. the community learning center was dedicated in cathy's name. the cathy torrez learning center. >> yes. >> reporter: you've got to leave your mark on the world. >> and she did, huh? >> reporter: and a tree was planted in cathy's memory across the street. >> they planted it in a way where from my mom's kitchen, she could see the tree. >> reporter: sam lopez could see it too. he was still living in the same home police had searched after cathy's murder. a search that had turned up
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nothing. and sam was also moving on with his life. in may 1994, just months after cathy's murder, sam walked into a local restaurant. >> he walked in with his friend. and i just remember thinking that he was cute. >> reporter: tina montelongo was a hostess then. >> so, i offered him some free food. and then we started talking. >> reporter: she felt the spark right away. >> i did think i would marry him when i first saw him. that was, like, the words that came out of my mouth. "i'm going to marry that guy." >> reporter: you were taken with him right away? >> i was. uh-huh. >> reporter: sam and tina started dating. but in a small town like placentia, it wasn't long before tina heard the whispered rumors. >> i found out that my sister went to school with him and i asked her what she knew about him, what she thought about him. and that's when she told me that he -- they were -- he was the one that they suspected.
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>> reporter: in the murder of cathy torrez? >> yes. >> reporter: he hadn't told you that? >> he hadn't told me that. that was in the first couple of weeks that i was dating him. >> reporter: sam emphatically denied any involvement in cathy's murder. but just the idea spooked tina. so she made up a lie. >> i met him and i told him that i was dating somebody else. >> reporter: which was not true? >> which was not true. >> reporter: you were a little freaked out by that? >> well, yeah. >> reporter: but the spark that drew her to sam was too strong, and though tina had only known him a few short weeks, something in her heart said sam was innocent. >> so i gave him a call. and i started dating him again. >> reporter: okay. i mean, you're an attractive woman. i have trouble believing that there were not guys available who weren't already suspects in a murder investigation. >> i'm sure there probably were. but there -- they didn't have my attention.
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>> reporter: they dated for a year, and then married. >> i was ready. i was, "this is it. this is who i want to be with. this is who i want to grow old with. this is who i want to have kids with." >> reporter: and they did. a year later came a baby girl. and sam embraced his role as dad. >> he was like mr. mom, you know. he stayed home and took care of the baby while i worked. >> reporter: if sam had anything to do with cathy's murder, he certainly didn't act like it. he stayed put. living with his wife and baby right down the street from cathy's mom, mary. >> she would sit outside and stare at us, and i felt like she was doing it to make me uncomfortable, and probably him, too. but i'm sure she didn't want him to be happy if she thought that he had anything to do with what happened to her daughter. >> reporter: sam say anything about mary? >> no. no. he would try to tell me to
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ignore it. >> reporter: i mean, was this like the hatfields and the mccoys? what happened? >> there was no communication, no associations with them, you know. that -- that was basically it. that they became estranged. >> reporter: which made it difficult for tina, who was still married to sam's older brother, armando. police continued to work the case, but the fact was, they had no solid leads. they weren't even close to arresting anyone. but then two years after cathy torrez was murdered, an unexpected meeting put this investigation in the fast lane. an explorer scout with a familiar last name inspires a renewed search for a killer. >> that is a weird convince coincidence. >> we don't believe in coincidences. alright, off you go.
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it was 1996. two years had passed since the gruesome murder of cathy torrez in placentia, california. >> i had been to several places, had knocked on many wa truth to come out as to what had happened to cathy. >> reporter: the case had gone cold, but its memory still clung to the breeze in this small town. daron wyatt was a patrol officer back then, and one afternoon his shift brought him to this park just across the street from where cathy had grown up. daron was about to bust a drug suspect when the guy started talking. >> he's playing the game of, you know, "i'll tell you whatever you want to know, just you know, ask the right questions and i'll tell you and then you won't take me to jail." so, you know, just almost as a flippant remark, i tell him,
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"okay, so tell me who killed cathy torrez." >> reporter: it was a shot in the dark. a tactic he'd picked up at a seminar for cultivating informants. >> and the patrol officer that is next to me starts kind of kicking my foot. and he's got an explorer scout who's riding with him -- a young hispanic female. and i look at her name tag and it was "d. torrez." turned out it was debbie torrez, cathy's youngest sister. >> reporter: who just heard you ask that question. >> correct. >> reporter: you had no idea it was her? >> i had no idea. >> reporter: debbie torrez -- cathy's baby sister -- was now 14 years old. eager, her mom says, to assist police because of everything her family had been through. >> she remembered that when we needed help, people came to help us. so she thought it was her turn to help others. >> reporter: which is why debbie was in the park that afternoon, and how she heard daron mention cathy's case. that is a weird coincidence. >> we don't believe in coincidences.
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>> reporter: to daron wyatt, it felt more like fate. and just months later, in january 1997, his lieutenant suggested daron apply to the homicide unit. >> so i ended up putting in for that job and being selected. >> reporter: it wasn't long before he cracked open the doors that housed the homicide files. >> and i open the cabinet and i see the torrez case. and i remembered the incident with debbie from about a year earlier. so i pulled it out and i started reading just on free time, just reading it a little bit. >> reporter: by then, the cathy torrez case had been cold for a good three years. >> and essentially no work had been done on it for at least the last two years. >> reporter: from the beginning, police had suspected cathy's one-time boyfriend sam lopez had something to do with her murder. but they had nothing connecting him to the crime. no witnesses. no dna. and sam had that solid alibi.
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tina was still married to sam's brother, armando. the two families intertwined, as cathy's family continued to search for answers. >> and then in april of 1997, i got a phone call from mary bennett. >> reporter: cathy's mom. it would be their first conversation of many. mary told daron how she'd seen reports about a new program in orange county centered around investigating cold cases. cathy's case had specifically been mentioned. >> and mary said, "if they're going to use my daughter's murder as publicity for their program, by all means they're going to work it. and it's your job to make sure that that happens." >> reporter: there were no new murders in placentia in 1997, allowing daron to focus his full attention on this old one. >> and because you have -- you have mary bennett and the family, who's persistent, who are very well known and very well liked within the community,
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it did give me a lot of leverage when i went forth and said, "hey look, i need time to concentrate specifically on this case." >> reporter: daron pored through the files and hunted down new leads. and then a tip came in, seemingly out of nowhere. >> so a guy from a repossession company calls the police and says, "hey i repo'd this car earlier today, and there was a folio in the trunk of the car. and as i'm going through the folio, there are articles in there about this murder in placentia from 1994 and there are receipts from sav-on. >> reporter: sav-on. the drugstore chain where cathy was working at the time she was stabbed to death. that had to make everybody sit up straight. >> it did. >> reporter: there was more. the guy whose car had been repossessed had recently been released from state prison and was now in custody for threatening someone with a knife. >> reporter: and what you wanted to know first was, "where were you on the night cathy torrez disappeared?" >> correct.
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>> reporter: and where was he? >> he was in state prison. >> reporter: so whatever's going on with this guy, he's not your guy. >> he -- well, he's not personally. but is he related to -- does he know? what's the connection? why is this stuff in the trunk of his car? >> reporter: when you say to him, "why would you have articles about cathy torrez's murder and receipts from sav-on in the trunk of your car," his answer's what? >> "that's all my wife's stuff." he disowns it. he separates himself from it, which now raises a little bit more suspicion. >> reporter: could you tell if he was connected to anyone in the case? >> not initially. i really had to dig a little bit deeper to see what the connection was. >> reporter: daron finally located the convict's wife. >> she was uncooperative at first, which again, now, this is raising suspicions again. ultimately she did come in and talk to us, and her explanation was that she went to valencia high school with cathy. and then upon closer examination, we were able to see that the receipts from sav-on
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were from a different sav-on than the one that cathy worked at. and this was basically, like, her keepsake file. >> reporter: she'd saved those articles just because she knew someone who got murdered? >> correct. >> reporter: so this had nothing to do with her husband who was in prison at all? who -- >> absolutely nothing. >> reporter: so you're back to basically no suspects. >> no, we're back to sam. >> but there was one big problem with sam. he didn't act like a killer. >> he voluntarily gave hair samples, he gave a blood sample. he gave fingerprints. >> would a killer do all that? homicide cop daron wyatt was deep in the cathy torrez murder case. if her mother mary wasn't giving up, neither would he. >> i knew that it wasn't over yet, that i still had to keep looking for answers. look -- looking for what i had
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